Truth and Advertising

Posted on August 31, 2011

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Among the many things I read and watch, two things stuck with me this week. They are all interrelated and come back to two things Truth and Advertising.  The first thing is the advertising campaign for Oregon and LSU college football game this Labor Day weekend. The second is a New York Times editorial on the paraphrasing of great leader’s words.

I saw the Oregon LSU commercial maybe 20 times as I holed up watching ESPN classic during Hurricane Irene. Oregon vs. LSU is a game of two top-5 college programs on opening weekend in Dallas Stadium.  It is a big game, and the commercial as expected is all hype. This is where the problem lies. It calls the Ducks the defending champions, (which they are of the Pac 10) even though they lost the National Championship game to Auburn last year.  Its technically correct, but it is misleading.

The other issue I have is that there are several interesting subplots about this game that to me would be a more interesting advertisement than misleading pronouncements.

The first is that due to a bar brawl at an establishment appropriately named Shady’s, the LSU tiger’s star QB Jordan Jefferson and WR Russell Sheppard are suspended.  This means that Jarret Lee who lost his starting job when Jefferson entered school is now the starting QB once again for LSU. How he handles his return is something I want to see.

The second is that both Oregon and LSU are under investigation for recruiting violations because of their dealings with a man named Will Lyles. Now I’m not one for airing dirty laundry, but shouldn’t this interesting point be brought up. Not only did both schools cheat, but also they did it with the same guy. I’ve read that some people in Texas are calling it the Lyles Bowl.

Yet with both of these interesting subplots, we are still just fed tripe about two top teams meeting in a big stadium. I’m sure there are will be many stories about these events, but I’m curious as to why they are not considered for an advertisement.

Along that same vein In the New York Times yesterday, there was a brilliant article on the co-opting of great leader’s words into feel good messages built for the optimistic masses.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Feel Good Messages-

Thoreau – “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Gandhi – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Mandela – “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

These are all nice statements and would be ok, if the leaders Mandela, Gandhi, Thoreau (not really a leader, but he is taught in most political science classes so we can say his writings are a foundation of leadership) actually said these things, but as the writer of the piece, Brian Morton, points out none of them did. They said things with the general sentiment but in a more measured, nuanced, and practical way. What they really said was-

Thoreau

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Gandhi

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mandela – He said many great things, but not the above quote. That passage belongs to a woman named Marianne Williamson.

That doesn’t stop the purveyors of bumper stickers and coffee mugs from paraphrasing and misrepresenting those words.

These two things are indicative of a larger overall problem of casual dishonesty. As we are exposed to ads and writings and TV news shows and email forwards, and wikipedia, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell what is real and what is false. As this is happening I personally have started to tune out everything. I don’t think everyone has my skeptical mind though, and as such we are making decisions with imperfect information.

Taking these two things together, I started thinking about what makes a good advertisement, how to market truthfully, and if it is possible to have a mass advertisement that people would trust. I also wonder if I would like an advertisement to be honest, and if so, if I’m representative of the 300 million people in the United States.

I think Five Guys Burgers is a good place to start because they do not currently advertise. Five Guys have had a lot of great press recently, as they are now a billion dollar business with 1,000 franchises in the country. What would an advertisement for Five Guys look like?

Five Guys Commercial –

Exterior of a Five Guys Burger and Fries with the CEO standing outside.

“Hi I’m Jerry Murrell. When I started Five Guys 25 years ago I had one mission, to make a great tasting burger with top quality meat and ingredients. We bake our own bread, hand cut our own fries and only use the choicest ingredients”

Interior of a restaurant:  CEO Standing with his employees

“So come on into Five Guys, and get a good burger made by people who care.”

Voice Over – “Five Guys Burger and Fries – A quality burger at a reasonable price.”

This ad is not winning any Clio’s. It doesn’t have the most interesting man in the world, or a cartoon king that catches footballs, or a creepy clown, or an adorable hipster couple, but it is honest. Everything it says about Five Guys is true. If I saw this ad on TV though, I wouldn’t believe it.  I have been conditioned to discount anything from advertising.  The very act of making something an advertisement means it is probably not true.  I know McDonalds does not have healthy food, yet I have to watch advertisements claiming its fare is healthy. I know that I’m not going to get knowledgeable help at my local Best Buy, that I’m not going to get good service on AT&T’s network, and that the new pill being touted will probably do more harm than good.

There is a great moment in the eponymous show of Louis CK this season. While apartment hunting, the broker says that the potential apartment is spacious, gets lots of light, etc. and Louie looks at her and says – This apartment is none of those things. I thought that was a perfect summation of our current advertising climate where we are blatantly lied to in the name of marketing and are expected to accept it.

I don’t want to accept it anymore. I implore us all to be like the fake Gandhi, and change your acceptance of advertising to change the world or to be like Louis CK and just start calling people and companies out. We need truth more than we need advertising.

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